When a nurse started working at a Franklin school, she noticed many kids complained of belly aches on Monday mornings.

After talking to students about why they were feeling sick, Northwood Elementary School nurse Amanda Martin found out the reason for their pain — they weren’t getting enough to eat during the weekend. Four years later, Martin helps 200 Franklin students go home with food to get them through the weekend.

Now, a group of Leadership Johnson County class members want to help children throughout spring break, when students need to rely on their kitchens at home instead of getting breakfast and lunch at school during the week.

Seven members of this year’s Leadership Johnson County class teamed up to create the Hunger Heroes, which hopes to collect $5,000 this month to feed students during their spring break in March.

Donations will be collected through Feb. 16, and the group plans to use social media to spread the word, much like the nationwide ALS Ice Bucket Challenge last summer.

Martin said that as students got closer to a longer break, they shared their anxiety with her. For other schools with a two-week spring break or longer Christmas vacation, she can only wonder how the children get the meals they need while away from school, she added.

“This is the future of our county, and if we can’t feed our youth, we’ve got pretty big issues,” said Jake Sappenfield, a member of Leadership Johnson County. “It really doesn’t take a whole lot of money to help one of our neighbors out.”

Sappenfield said it takes $12 to feed a child all week through the Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana.

A “backsacks” program started with about 100 students at Northwood has expanded to include another 100 students from the other elementary schools in the Franklin school district. Martin also teaches a class to Northwood third- and fourth-graders about how to eat good foods as part of a nutrition club before they get their donation of food.

“They literally come running,” Martin said.

Not just local issue

Other students in central Indiana also need extra food for the weekends.

About 250 students from three Center Grove elementary schools receive food on the weekends through a program called Blessings in a Backpack, a national nonprofit organization to keep children fed while away from school. It takes $80 to fund one child’s food for the school year, Center Grove coordinator Chris Hickey said.

The program started three years ago at Center Grove, and Hickey wants to add students from a fourth elementary school later this year. She said administrators from one of the middle schools asked if the program could be started there in the future.

“It’s necessary everywhere,” Hickey said. “There are so many people who don’t understand that it’s in your schools no matter where you live.”

‘Positive impact’

Resurrection Lutheran Church started a backsacks program at a southside school after learning about students who were hungry during the weekend. Since starting the program one year ago, the church provides enough food for 30 students at the school each weekend, volunteer Scott Bastin said. The church now plans to deliver food to another 30 or 40 students at a different school in Perry Township this year.

Unlike Franklin’s program, Resurrection Lutheran Church collects donated food and sorts it themselves before delivering the items to the school. Each week, church volunteers stockpile 20 to 150 pounds of donations, Bastin said. About six volunteers sort and organize the food each week then deliver it to the school. While the students are at lunch or recess, faculty members fill their backpacks with the food, so it is 100 percent anonymous and doesn’t draw attention to the children.

“We only want one positive impact,” Bastin said. “To help get them into the state of mind where they’re in a learning frame of mind.”

Family affair

The volunteers also get their children involved by letting them pack the bags of food on Sunday mornings.

“We’re trying to get the kids into the mindset of helping your neighbor,” Bastin said.

He added the goal is to supplement the students’ food on Saturdays and Sundays.

Items donated range from organic applesauce or granola bars to juice boxes. No item needs refrigeration, but Bastin said he wants to expand the program to have more fresh fruits and vegetables each week.

How to help

Students who typically receive breakfast and lunch at school during the week sometimes go hungry during the weekend. To fix the stomach aches seen on Monday mornings, a “backsack” program was started to give elementary school students in Franklin Community School Corp. food to last through the weekend. Now, seven volunteers are trying to get money donated to keep children full through spring break.

What: A group of this year’s Leadership Johnson County class is trying to raise $5,000 by Feb. 16, which will be used to send food home with children during spring break.

Where: Search for Franklin Hunger Hero on Facebook, then be directed to the donation page through Gleaners.